The logo is dead.
That’s a shamelessly sensational statement meant to grab your attention. But in all seriousness, the traditional meaning of this word – a fixed, stable brand mark – has been shaken loose. Let’s take a look.
The Whitney Museum
The Whitney Museum’s primary new logo mark, by Experimental Jetset
This May, The Whitney Museum, a New York institution devoted to modern and contemporary American art, announced that they had replaced their former logo design with the thin zig-zag you see above. Pretty boring, it would seem. The museum’s previous logo, a pixelated-looking chartreuse block by Pentagram, certainly looked dated (it was created amid the dot com fever of the early 2000s), but it did have personality.
The Whitney’s previous logo mark by Pentagram
It quickly becomes clear, however, that the essential attribute of The Whitney’s new logo, designed by the highly theory-guided design firm Experimental Jetset, is that it is actually not just one mark. Rather, it is “adaptable” – able to stretch and extend in any number of formations to accommodate different text and suit different branding materials.
The Whitney’s new zig-zag logo design can take any number of shapes, depending on its context.
In fact, The Whitney is just one of many art museums that have adopted similarly mutable brand marks. Gizmodo suggests that art museums in particular have embraced this strategy because contemporary art itself is constantly in flux, by nature. It is typical for logos to reflect their institutions, so there you have it.
Additionally, there is the fact that art museums are more aware of progressive design ideas than your average company, and more willing to embrace them.
MIT Media Lab
Gizmodo further suggests that MIT Media Lab logo first demonstrated the potential of adaptable design. The logo consists of three spotlights – red, blue and yellow – that can be algorithmically arranged in 40,000 different permutations, each of which results in an altogether distinctive pattern.
The MIT Media lab logo has 40,000 possible iterations
Professional designers have always been aware of the need to create identities that can extend across different graphics with some degree of coherence. Often, that is just a matter of echoing a logo’s visual components and choosing complementary typefaces. But if you can produce 40,000 cohesively related marks – heck, let’s say infinity – then why not? It’s the inevitable result of digital technology’s influence on branding, one might say.
But is this the future, or merely a logo trend confined to the artsy museum sphere? Time will tell. For now, take a look at some of the other art institutions that have embraced adaptive logo design, to one degree or another, and let us know what you think!
Designed by Wolff Olins, the Tate’s logo exists in varying degrees of focus, with some half-tone variations. It represents contemporary art being in a state of constant flux.
Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)
The Asian Art Museum’s logo design, also by Wolff Olins, is an upside-down A that comes in a variety of versions that incorporate different colors, textures and images.
Woodmere Art Museum (Philadelphia)
The top design is what the museum ultimately chose. Those below, by 160 over 90, were a separate but related proposal.
Museum of Art and Design (New York City)
Pentagram created this identity for the Museum of Art and Design. Like the Asian Art Museum logo, it can incorporate any number of textures and images.
The Brooklyn Museum’s logo mark, by 2×4, takes a variety of different stamp shapes.
Design Museum of Boston
Designed by Continuum, this logo for the Design Museum of Boston consists of dots in varying degrees of density, representing a community of people coming together.
Those are all true adaptive logo designs, in the sense that they each branch into an array of slightly different, but overall coherent logo marks. The following examples embody the more traditional sense of adaptive logo design: only one logo, per se, but its features lend themselves to extending across a variety of applications to form a cohesive identity system.
Harvard Art Museum
The Harvard Art Museum only has one rather simple logo design, by 2×4, but its slash lends itself to a variety of wider ranging design solutions.
Centraal Museum (Utrecht)
The Centraal museum also has an extremely simple concept, by Lesley Moore: One big circle with a line pointing to the name. In the images below, you can see this framework branching out to include a list of the museum’s various departments, and some wayfinding signage.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Another 2×4 project, the LACMA logo system centers on a custom typeface with a distinctive underline.
The Exploratorium (San Francisco)
The Exploratorium recently changed locations and updated its branding, too. This new logo mark, by Landor Associates, contains an oversized “O” that lends itself to all sorts of clever marketing.
Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam)
This logo for the Stedelijk Museum, by Linda Van Deursen, received a lot of attention – much of it critical – for its daring simplicity. In the below images, we see how the letter-of-letters concept houses other information apart from the museum name, and how the general idea applies to wayfinding signage as well.